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The Fifty Greatest Light-Heavyweights of All Time Part One – 50-41

Matt McGrain

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Constructing a top 100 pound-for-pound was a difficult task, but far more tortuous was my attempt last year to construct a top 100 at heavyweight. The workload of research and footage was no heavier, but I had overlooked the fact that the distinction between fighters ranked even twenty places apart would be tiny; in some cases almost meaningless.

Or at least, that was the case where the lower order was concerned. The top fifty was more cohesive. This was encouraging, and probably rescued my determination to construct thorough ATG lists for each of what is now typically known as “the eight original weight classes.” What you are now reading is the third such list, but the first one that is made up of only fifty fighters. Despite this I hope it loses considerably less than the fifty percent in worth one might imagine. Just as was the case with the heavies, right outside the top fifty things become extremely soft. There are around thirty fighters with a claim for spots #48 through #60 with very little to separate them and this makes their ordering rather meaningless. Within the fifty, the light-heavyweights come alive, suddenly vibrant and distinct. Ahead there are surprises but they are surprises formed by opinion based upon the facts that made up the careers these great fighters enjoyed and endured.

First among those surprises: no Bob Fitzsimmons, and no Jack O’Brien. In appraising light-heavyweights I haven’t gone any further back than 1903 and the point in history that is often seen as beginning of the division with Jack Root’s defeat of Charles McCoy. There were other dates that would have served almost as well, but this is the one I have selected.

Both Fitzsimmons and O’Brien held the title after this point, but both also did the bulk of their work before this point. If this seems a little unfair, consider that both were credited on the pound-for-pound list and on the heavyweight list for these earlier fights. Anything fought above middleweight in the earliest days of gloved boxing was considered a heavyweight fight, and this is how they were appraised by me.

Further to that, no fighter is credited more than once for any contest. For this reason, fights fought by men usually held to be light-heavyweights that were fought above the light-heavyweight limit will be considered to have engaged in a heavyweight contest and will not be credited here. As a rough guide, fighters matched at below 164lbs are generally held to have fought a middleweight contest and fighters matched at 180lbs and above are fighting at heavyweight. Also the weight class in question is always defined by the heavier fighter. If a 173lb man is fighting a 203lb man, he is engaging in a heavyweight contest. This list is interested almost exclusively in fights that took place within the light-heavyweight class.

As to what is considered for placings: opposition bested is the most pressing consideration. “Who did he beat?” is always the first question I ask, quickly followed by “how?” Ability on film, where it can be seen, plays a part, as do prime losses, dominance, and certain other intangibles that can make the difference between a lower spot and a higher one as they throw indistinct shapes from history into focus.

That’s the dull stuff out of the way – now let me introduce you the fifty greatest light-heavyweights of all time.

This, is how I have it:

#50 – Michael Moorer (52-4-1)

Michael Moorer rustled up just 22-0 at light-heayweight and he squeezed the usual quota of sharpening stones into his formative years. Heavyweight was where he made his reputation and his money, 175lbs was doubtless an aperitif and this is reflected in his ranking. In a sense, Moorer is the troubled soul of what has been a difficult project. From Freddie Mills (who falls outside the fifty) to Archie Moore (who, you will be unsurprised to hear, we won’t visit with until part five), a majority of these men spent the majority of their boxing lives rubbernecking the heavyweight division. As Moorer’s own career demonstrated, even the perpetual growth of the heavyweight division between Larry Holmes and Wladimir Klitschko hasn’t discouraged 175lb fighters adding thirty-fifty pounds and hurling themselves against the heavyweights.

My strict consideration of what a fighter achieves in the light-heavyweight division might, therefore, result in some interesting rankings, but Moorer’s place at #50 demonstrates that a part-time light-heavyweight can still receive his due. There are perhaps twenty other men that could have scooped this spot but what edged Moorer in through the closing door was not what he did but the way that he did it. Ramzi Hassan was his first visitation upon a ranked fighter and it was a brutal one. Moorer clubbed him out in five to claim a strap. Victor Claudio followed forty days later in two. Frank Swindell was coming off a first round stoppage of the once great Matthew Saad Muhammad when he took on Moorer forty days after that. Before the fight, Moorer spoke about being extended the full twelve by “tough guy” Swindell; the tough guy managed six rounds. He didn’t win any of them. By the time of his final light-heavyweight contest in December of 1990 he was boxing with the type of destructive surety that spoke of a possible reign of greatness.

It was not to be. A paucity of top class opposition in tandem with the eternal thirst of the light-heavyweight to become just a plain old heavyweight means he can rank no higher, but a 100% KO record and 22-0 squeezed into just 34 months means he cannot be ignored.

A final note – Moorer also ranked in my heavyweight top fifty…at #49. The temptation to rank him at #49 here was almost overwhelming.

#49 – Joe Knight (103-19-11)

But that slot is inhabited by the unheralded Joe Knight who will stand firm as the most underrated fighter on this list almost regardless of who else we come across on our travels; frankly only the hardcore among even a readership as well informed as that of the The Sweet Science will even have heard of him.

There are reasons for this. Despite being the beneficiary of alphabet-belt shenanigans that would make a 1980s heavyweight blush, Knight never lifted the legitimate, lineal light-heavyweight title, although he did get his shot, in February of 1934. The incumbent champion was the eccentric and brilliant Max Rosenbloom, as perplexing a riddle as can be seen in the opposite corner for a light-heavyweight title fight. But Knight had already solved Rosenbloom two years earlier, defeating him over ten rounds in 1932 and he was neither intimidated nor bamboozled. Rather he marched calmly in and fed the champion a steady diet of hooks to the body, giving him a sizeable lead going into the eleventh according to the great Tommy Loughran, who was in attendance. Rosenbloom, who had named Knight “the second best light-heavyweight in the country”, was a king, however, and an experienced one. He finished the stronger, dominating the final two frames to salvage a draw and his title.

This in turn illuminates the second reason for his lack of historical impact: a certain lack of aggression even with a hurt opponent on the hook in an important fight. He let the superb Tony Shucco clamber off the deck to rescue a draw in 1935 and his failure to put away a hurt opponent cost him a loss in a rematch the following year; a similarly wounded Patsy Perroni was able to draw level on the cards in 1936. But for all that, Knight’s decade was a healthy and impressive romp through a tough crew of fighters, losing a series with Bob Goodwin, winning one with Rosenbloom, outworking numerous other solid professionals to rank among the ten best in the world.

It’s true that he lost nineteen, but given that he only won five of his last ten and twelve of his first twenty, those one-hundred wins built for the most part during a superb prime run earns him the #49 spot I wanted to give to Moorer. It is fitting that a boxer who remained almost exclusively a light-heavyweight for his entire career should out-rank one who departed for heavyweight within three years.

#48 – Anton Christoforidis (54-15-8)

Anton Christoforidis runs Joe Knight close for the title of the most underrated fighter on this list. In 1943 he suffered back to back defeats against Jimmy Bivins, a fight he always held he won, and Lloyd Marshall, who he admitted had bested him. He then joined the US Navy, having taken up citizenship of the United States after leaving Turkey, his birthplace, Greece, his first adopted home and France, where he lived his salad days as a professional fighter, behind. When he returned to fighting, it was as a middleweight.

Similarly, he turned professional at middleweight, sparing him the losses then associated with an apprenticeship as well as those associated with a fistic dotage, leaving just his prime for the light-heavyweight division. And he did some superb work there.

He arrived on American soil in 1940, a move that coincided with his first real interest in the light-heavyweight division, announcing himself in that company in earnest with a double left-hook knockout of the prospect Jimmy Reeves. After dropping down to middleweight to go 1-1 with future nemesis Jimmy Bivins, a fight was arranged for the NBA’s light-heavyweight strap against the tough Melio Bettina, who very nearly made this list himself. Speed and stamina were the keynote attributes in a workmanlike and savvy performance that saw Christoforidis pound out a clean, come-from behind decision over the narrow favourite. His reign did not last long, in fact he lost his strap in his very first defence against Gus Lesnevich, but he continued to campaign in the division and cobbled together a fine resume of wins against some of the era’s better fighters, including close victories over Nate Brown and Johnny Colan.

It isn’t a stirring resume, but given light-heavyweight’s surprising lack of depth outside the top forty it’s enough to get him into the bottom ten of the top fifty.

#47 – Henry Maske (31-1)

There was a perception, I think, among the American fight fraternity in the 1990s that fighters who remained in Europe rather than set sail for the fight capital of the world were to be viewed with suspicion. Maske, though, won his critics on the other side of the Atlantic over despite having fought in USA just once, as a 7-0 prospect against a cruiserweight journeyman in a fight staged at a middling Hollywood hotel.

Returning home to his beloved Germany, never to leave Europe again for professional reasons, Maske earned respect with a thirty fight winning streak that eventually saw him named the best light-heavyweight on the planet by Ring magazine.

He likely first caught all but the sharpest of American eyes in March of 1993 by not just defeating but dominating the widely admired Ohioan, Charles Williams. It was a lesson in substance over style and in the deceptive appearance of Maske, who misled in all kinds of ways. There to be hit by eye, he actually had a superb judge of range, and the seemingly clear path to his jaw, a straight shot from wrist to chin, was actually littered with all kinds of sneaky, digging punches. Williams obliged Maske completely in driving himself on to these punches with an overly aggressive approach that the German ate up.

Lacking genuine fluidity on offence, Maske was an expert punch-picker even at 19-0 and was a prototype for Joe Calzaghe in the sense that he sacrificed in order to maintain punching opportunities. Where Calzaghe sacrificed balance, Maske sacrificed rhythm and certain gains his traditional technique may have brought him. It made Maske shifty, one big feint.

He deceived Iran Barkley when that old warhorse mad the trip, winning almost every round and jabbing the old man’s left eye shut with that southpaw jab, feeding him a steady diet of uppercuts when the American tried to rush, head down. Maske punished him sorely from that narrow-legged wide-armed stance in the ninth and Barkley refused to answer the bell for the tenth.

Perhaps a little lucky in taking an exquisitely close decision from Graciano Rocchigiani in May 1995, Maske provided his opponent with an immediate rematch and beat him clean, confirming his status as the best light-heavy on the planet. There are fighters who haven’t made this list who have might be favoured to beat Maske, guys like Eddie Cotton, guys like James Scott, but consistency, paper record and a delightful tendency to deceive opponent and spectator alike sees Maske sneak in ahead of them.

#46 – Willie Pastrano (62-13-8)

Willie Pastrano lifted the world’s light-heavyweight championship versus the brilliant Harold Johnson in the closest thing to a flat out robbery that the modern lineal kingship has ever seen. I scored no fewer than ten rounds for Harold Johnson and if this is extreme, it is still the case that most ringsiders (9-5 in a poll of sports reporters) saw the fight clearly for Johnson. It is hard to credit Pastrano for the win.

But he did fight a clever, foraging battle that night, and he did upset Johnson’s rhythm to a greater extent than geniuses such as Ezzard Charles so if he can’t be credited for the win he can perhaps be credited for a good effort. More, for all that he was handed the title, he did a fine job of defending it, stopping both Gregorio Peralta and Terry Downes.

Pastrano never inspired confidence in the public, his style too skittish to make believers of the fight-fans and Peralta started their title fight as a favourite, based upon his victory over Pastrano in a non-title fight; Pastrano blasted his eye wide open with a right hand while ahead on the cards, stopping him in five. Downes was also cut early but the Londoner proved more stubborn and was likely ahead at the beginning of the eleventh. Pastrano had travelled to Manchester for his second defence and found himself tucked up in a small ring against an aggressive hometown boy with the title on his mind – but he didn’t panic. Instead he boxed, moved when he could and when the time came to fight, he fought. The beginning of the eleventh was such a time, and supposedly inspired by a particularly blue tirade from an irate Angelo Dundee, Pastrano got up on his toes and boomed home two huge right hands; Downes never recovered and Pastrano proceeded to batter him about the ring until the referee was forced to intervene.

He lost his title in his very next defence, to Jose Torres, and promptly retired. Pre-title his career had been a mix of superb work against excellent heavyweight competition (including a 200lb Archie Moore and a 184lb Joey Maxim) and passable work against limited light-heavyweight competition, the probable highlights being his first contest with Chuck Spieser and his decision over Jerry Luedee. This is not top fifty form, but his good performances in title fights plus his gift decision over Harold Johnson gets this overachiever through the door head of light-heavyweight underachievers like James Toney and Bob Olin.

#45 – Mauro Mina (52-3-3)

When he was just 6-0 Peruvian Mauro Mina was defeated by future Brazilian national light-heavyweight champion Luis Ignacio. A year later, at 10-1-1, he lost to South-American light-heavyweight champion Dogomar Martinez over fifteen rounds. And that’s it. That’s all. Mina, who would never fight for the light-heavyweight championship, was never again defeated at the weight. His prime was an undefeated streak six years long interrupted only by a setback up at heavyweight.

Like all the great Central and South Americans (especially in this era), Mina’s first task was to place the massed banditry of his domestic scene under control. This was no small matter. Names like Huberto Loayza and Sixto Rodriguez may not call to mind famous faces, but they were serious men unaccustomed to letting local prospects escape their grasp without a fight. Mina beat out all comers, often in front of crowds of thousands, and eventually escaped to the United States where the veteran Henry Hank gave him a most unwelcome welcome. Already 11-0 versus American fighters paid to visit Peru, Mina included a victory over #1 contender Eddie Cotton on his ledger, but Hank pushed him hard in the early going. When the Peruvian got down off his toes however, he dominated, using his more traditional style to out-hit Hank with high pressure and some superb short-arm punching. A split decision win was his reward, to be followed by a shot at the light-heavyweight champion Harold Johnson.

Alas, it was not to be. Whether or not Mina would have tested Johnson with his crafty defence and his depth of style will never be known as an eye injury kept him from the championship ring. Hank, who met both men, certainly thought Mina’s chances were healthy claiming he was too strong for “anyone in the division.” The Peruvian continued to impress, climbing off the canvas to outpoint a green Bob Foster, defeating Cotton again and out-pointing the ranked Piero Del Papa in his very last fight, but when he retired there was a sense that his potential went unfulfilled.

#44 – Billy Miske (45-3-3; Newspaper Decisions 29-10-13)

Billy Miske is best known as the first victim of the title run of the heavyweight legend Jack Dempsey, but Miske boxed an entire career before he limped to the ring to face Jack and much of it was fought at the 175lb limit.

It is also true that Miske is known for making an attempt on the prime Dempsey’s title despite suffering the debilitating symptoms of Bright’s Disease, leading many to write him off as a valid opponent; less well known is that Miske had been battling these symptoms for years and suffered badly with them before many of his key battles at the weight. Before his summer 1919 confrontation with Tommy Gibbons he had, according to Clay Moyle, author of Billy Miske, nine boils lanced. In the week before the fight he was so weak with fever he could hardly rise form his bed. According to Miske himself, “my back ached, my legs were numb…I gritted my teeth and said “I’m going to go these ten rounds”…I don’t know how I did it.”

But he did do it, and in the opinion of the referee and several newspapermen in attendance he toughed it out to a draw, gameness and aggression his chief weapons against the brilliant Gibbons. The two fought a series across the span of seven years and it was one that was dominated by Gibbons, but in their only meeting at 175lbs, Miske held his own despite his desperate health. It is very possible that were he well, Miske might have found a shade in that fight.

The other key series in his career was fought against the great Jack Dillon, “The St.Paul Thunderbolt” and for all that Dillon had started to slip by the time Miske had started to dominate, when they first met in January of 1916 Dillon was at the tail end of his absolutely extraordinary prime. Heavily favoured, Dillon was shocked by Miske who, as he would throughout his career, refused to bow to any measure of punishment, remaining in the pocket with the much more experienced man and appearing to out-fight him there. Dillon claimed illness, and there may be something to this as he showed better in the rematch, taking his revenge, but it is a fact that by the end of their four fight series Miske was winning at a canter. He is generally credited with winning their rivalry three fights to one. He had developed a healthy habit of making Dillon miss with bodywork before hitting out with serious punches in return.

He could never get over on the deadly Kid Norfolk, or on the immortal Harry Greb but there is certainly no shame in that. Supporting wins over champion Battling Levinsky and the always willing Gunboat Smith see him enjoy an elevated ranking here – but certainly not one that he does not deserve.

#43 – Jeff Clarke (92-31-15; Newspaper Decisions 37-9-6)

Jeff Clarke was known as the Jopplin Ghost, The Fighting Ghost, a spectre of a boxer, gone from his flailing opponent in a step, offering the parting gift of an uppercut. So brilliant was Clarke that he was able, despite what was a definitive light-heavyweight’s frame, to straddle two divisions, making inroads into a hot heavyweight division. Clarke once defeated the brilliant heavyweight contender Joe Jeanette and dropped and out-boxed the fabled Sam Langford; yet his footprint on history is, perhaps fittingly, ghost-like.

Never a legitimate champion, he remorselessly pursued alphabet straps at the heavier weight, fighting for the Mexican heavyweight title, the Panamanian heavyweight title, the “coloured” heavyweight title. For an African-American fighter turning professional in the USA in 1908, there was really no other way to achieve financial security. His Herculean pursuit of heavyweight riches ironically hampers his ranking here. Had he fought in a later era he likely would have spent most of his career at the weight and found himself in the upper reaches of this list.

A counter-punching specialist, he was extremely hard to hit and more than capable of keeping from the era’s most dangerous punchers for distance fights, but when called to arms he was capable of duking it out with the best of them, as he proved against Kid Norfolk in May of 1915 in Panama City, stepping close to give one of the most brutal infighters of the era a solid lesson in the art.

Kid Norfolk would eventually catch up to him and as the older man Clarke was firmly dominated by Norfolk in the end. The Ghost spent almost ten years in a funk of losses and beatings as his career wound down, ruining his paper record but failing to obscure an excellence that continues to shine, barely, through the past century.

#42 – Jose Torres (41-3-1)

When people talk about “old-school” fighters they are talking about guys like Puerto Rican Jose Torres.

Check out his 1966 fight of the year with the timeless Eddie Cotton for a fine example. It’s not that Torres does anything we don’t see today but rather the way that he does it. There is no flashy shoulder-role or sizzling footwork, he just slips jabs with good reaction time, arbitrary head movement, technically sure positioning and well-drilled balance. The over-riding definition of old-school is economy – it is born of necessity as fighters trained and learned to box fifteen rounds, a whole 25% more than their modern counterparts. His moves at every range are dotted by a certain care that often cannot be seen in the modern ring. Nothing is wasted. His opponent, Cotton, is complicit in this and together they turn in one of the great light-heavyweight fights.

Torres delivered a similar performance against Willie Pastrano, from whom he took the title. Pastrano, probably, is past his best but this is Jose’s best effort on film, a fight in which he demonstrates all that is good about him. Moving forwards steadily in that now famous peekaboo style, gloves high, dipping and cutting the ring off on the fleet-footed Pastrano before the champion even knew where he was headed, a vicious body-attack the tip of his spear. It was a one-sided beating that resulted in the first stoppage of Pastrano’s career for any reason other than cuts. The reason on this occasion was an accumulation of punches that forced the referee’s hand between the ninth and tenth round.

In addition to his wonderful defeat of Cotton, Torres managed defences against former top contender Chic Calderwood, who he blasted out in two with a booming right to the ear, and the always game Wayne Thornton who he outclassed over fifteen.

Against this must be tempered Jose’s loss of the title to former middleweight Dick Tiger, a fighter totally incapable of filling out into a light-heavyweight, not once but twice. It is also true that he lifted the title against a fighter that probably should never have been in possession of it, Pastrano gifted a decision over Harold Johnson. Finally, Torres was not a career light-heavy, having fought many years at middleweight in the fruitless pursuit of a title shot.

Still, it is clear he belongs, even if the above is reason enough for me to see him a little lower than many Puerto Rican’s will care to see him.

#41 – Sergey Kovalev (27-0-1)

It’s a strange thing with active fighters. I am writing just hours after Sergey Kovalev’s brutalisation of Jean Pascal in the latter’s hometown of Quebec, March the fifteenth, 2015. The fight was not close, but the fight was most entertaining and in the course of the fight Kovalev was checked for both chin and engine. He was the equal to both of these examinations, showed a wonderful patience in stalking his wounded opponent for the knockout, and devastated Pascal in eight surgical and brutal rounds. Had Kovalev lost that fight rather than inflicted upon Pascal his first ever stoppage defeat, he would now be ranked nowhere, and the great middleweight and sometime light-heavyweight Tiger Flowers would have crept into the #50 spot. As it is, Flowers languishes outside, and Kovalev assaults the dizzy, even absurd heights of #41, above one or two men whose names ring out as legendary.

Is it reasonable? Certainly it can be defended, although in a less traditional manner than the logic that supports much of this list. Firstly, Kovalev has now beaten more men ranked in the top five at light-heavyweight at the time that he met them than Anton Christoforidis (#46) and Mauro Mina (#45). He has defeated old-man Hopkins at a time when the great man was ranked the #1 light-heavyweight contender to the 175lb title. He is undefeated at the weight and has knocked out every ranked opponent he has ever faced aside from Hopkins.

I admit, still, there is a sneaking suspicion that perhaps Kovalev might be better suited to a spot a little further down, behind Clarke and Torres perhaps. What leads him to the #41 spot is this: if his ranking looks high now it will look low in a year’s time – that is because Kovalev is, by my reckoning, the best light-heavyweight since the heyday of one Roy Jones Junior. Experience has taught me it is better to be conservative in ranking active fighters, but this fighter seems a legitimate leviathan; so I have let my gut guide me.

Time, as always, will tell.

Click here for part Two

Click here for part Three

Click here for part Four

Click here for part Five

Follow Matt McGrain on Twitter: @McGrainM

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 87: Vergil Ortiz and Company and More Fight Notes

David A. Avila

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LOS ANGELES-Not long ago Vergil Ortiz Jr. and female prizefighter Seniesa Estrada were busting heads in a downtown theater that barely fit 400 people if the fire inspector looked the other way.

Next month, Ortiz and Estrada will be co-headlining a Golden Boy Promotions boxing card at the Inglewood Forum that seats more than 18,000.

A lot has changed for the two highly-ranked contenders.

Ortiz (15-0, 15 KOs) defends the WBA Gold welterweight title against Samuel Vargas (31-5-2, 14 KOs) in the main event on March 28 at the spacious arena built in the 1960s. In the female co-main East L.A.’s Estrada (18-0, 7 KOs) fights Mexico’s Jackie Calvo (12-5-2) in defense of a regional title.

From prelims to world title chasers in a matter of two years, the ascent of the two highly-ranked contenders was mercurial.

It was less than two years ago the Dallas area product battered former world champion Juan Carlos Salgado at Belasco Theater. At the time few were certain that the slender built Ortiz was ready for the big tent. He was more than ready and blew out Salgado like Dollar Store candles.

Now it’s merely a matter of time before he gets a crack at one of the welterweight world champions. It’s a talent rich division with the likes of Terence Crawford, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter and Errol Spence Jr.

“I don’t think I’m the most talented fighter in the room, but I do know that I work the hardest in the game right now,” said Ortiz, 21, who has never won by decision in his professional career. It’s been pure knockouts.

Vargas, a veteran of 38 pro bouts, has faced many of the top welterweights in the world today including Errol Spence Jr. Amir Khan, and Danny Garcia.

“I’ve fought a lot of talented boxers and have had great experiences throughout the years,” said Vargas who trains in Las Vegas with Clarence “Bones” Adams. “I’m confident and I’m ready.”

It’s a talent-rich boxing card featuring many prospects and contenders including super bantamweight Azat “Crazy A” Hovhannisyan (18-3, 15 KOs) who fights Colombia’s Jose Sanmartin (30-5-1, 20 KOs).

“I’m as ready for any champion. I’m in the best shape and have the best trainer,” said Hovhannisyan who is trained by Freddie Roach. “I can’t wait to show everyone a wonderful fight on March 28.”

Another prospect featured on the card, Aaron “The Silencer” McKenna (10-0, 6 KOs) of Ireland, meets Mexico’s Christopher Degollado (13-6, 10 KOs) in a super welterweight clash set for eight rounds.

McKenna has adapted to the pro style after a successful amateur career and also adapted to Southern California living.

“I’ve been here a few years now,” said McKenna who also trains with Freddie Roach. “I have an aggressive style that Mexican fans like.”

Others on the card are Pablo Cano, Rashidi Ellis, Christopher Pearson, Chris Ousley and Raul Curiel. It’s a pretty strong fight lineup.

“There’s a lot of great boxing history at the forum. A lot of famous world champions have fought at this venue, including Oscar De La Hoya, who made his debut back in 1992,” said Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions. “This is a great card and all these fights are going to be exciting, especially Vergil Ortiz Jr.”

It’s always fun to see prospects turn to contenders and then on to champions.

Showtime in Las Vegas

A hefty card in Las Vegas by Mayweather Promotions takes place on Friday Feb. 28, at Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall in Las Vegas. Showtime will televise several of the main bouts.

Super lightweight prospect Keith Hunter (11-0, 7 KOs) meets Uzbekistan’s Sanjarbek Rakhmanov (12-2, 6 KOs) in a rematch of a fight that ended in a split decision. Hunter won.

After the close win, Hunter then defeated always tough Cameron Krael by unanimous decision in a 10-round fight. Now he returns to face Rakhmanov again. It should be a firefight.

It’s a very good boxing card that includes super middleweight Kevin Newman II, Ladarius Miller, and Lanell Bellows.

Burbank

This Saturday, Feb. 29, a boxing card called “Valley Fight Night” features a dozen bouts by Bash Boxing at the Burbank Marriott Events Center in Burbank, California.

Heading the boxing card will be popular welterweight Vlad Panin (7-0) facing Moises Fuentes (4-1). Several other undefeated prospects fill the event calendar including welterweight Aram Amirkhanyan.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and information go to www.Bashboxing.com

Fights to Watch

Fri. Showtime 10:45 p.m. – Keith Hunter (11-0) vs Sanjarbek Rakhmanov (12-2).

Fri. Telemundo 11:35 p.m. – Yomar Alamo (17-0-1) vs Kendo Castaneda (17-0).

Sat. DAZN  5 p.m. – Mikey Garcia (39-1) vs Jessie Vargas (29-2-2); Roman Gonzalez (48-2) vs Khalid Yafai (26-0); Julio Cesar Martinez (15-1) vs Jay Harris (17-0).

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Final Takeaways from Wilder-Fury and a Doleful Dissertation on Riddick Bowe

Arne K. Lang

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Final Takeaways from Wilder-Fury and a Doleful Dissertation on Riddick Bowe

I watched the Wilder-Fury fight from the cheap seats. Actually, I had no seat at all.

My press badge consigned me to the so-called auxiliary press section which was up in the rafters. One can’t work in that environment. There’s no table on which to plop one’s laptop; no power strip to keep it plugged in. And so, I watched the full undercard on the big TV in the press room and then went into the arena to catch the main go and the hoopla that preceded it.

The corridors leading into the arena were jammed with people hoping to score a ticket at the last minute. They were out of luck. The fight was a sellout. It was gridlock and for a moment I feared that the main event would start without me, but I managed to push my way through in time for the ring walks.

The arena was dark and it seemed that every seat in my assigned area was taken. And so, I walked up to the very top of the stairs and stood with my back against the wall, wedged in between two other standees including a friendly guy from New Zealand who, like me, had a press badge dangling from a chain around his neck.

From a reporter’s standpoint, there are certain benefits to being up in the rafters when the house is full. For one, you can get a better feel for the ambience. A boxing crowd skews younger and more boozed-up as one gets higher up in the stands and this translates into more exuberance. And that’s especially true when there are a lot of Brits in the house. They chant and sing in unison. Us poor Yanks just don’t know how to have so much fun.

I’m old school when it comes to ring walks. Spare me the razzmatazz. Mike Tyson didn’t need it. No fancy robe for him, nor tasseled trunks, not even socks. And yet when he walked down the aisle with a simple white towel draped over his bare shoulders, he exuded charisma.

And then, on Saturday, Tyson Fury was carried into the ring on a throne, dressed like a king with a big crown on his head as the PA system played Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and, I’m forced to admit, it was magical. Talk about a tough act to follow.

I’ve seen boxers walk into the ring with fear unmistakably etched on their countenance as if they were walking to the gallows. Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon could not mask that “tell” when they fought Mike Tyson. More often, a boxer’s expression on his ring walk is inscrutable which I suspect is a way of compensating for his anxiety.

What struck me about Tyson Fury’s ring entrance was that it betrayed no such apprehension; to the contrary, he oozed confidence as if this were nothing more than a tune-up fight. I swear, he looked like a chap who was headed off to a Halloween ball and had stopped for a few pints on the way to get a head start on the jollity. I couldn’t pick a winner in this fight, tilted toward Wilder, but as I watched Tyson Fury’s ring walk, I sensed that I had missed a great opportunity by failing to get down a wager on the Gypsy King.

Many years ago, when I was first credentialed for a fight (Larry Holmes vs. Tim Witherspoon was the headliner), they planted me in the third row. Since returning to boxing after a decade in which I busied myself writing college football annuals and such, it seems as if my career is in reverse gear. The next time there’s a really big fight in town, I may be consigned to the corridor with all those folks effectively left out in the rain.

Oh, well, it’s been a fun ride.

—-

Prior to the ring walks, three great heavyweight champions of recent vintage – Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson – were honored in the ring. Conspicuous by his absence was Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, a 1990s-era contemporary.

royalty

Granted, this ceremony was the handiwork of WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman who presented each of the honorees with a medal and Riddick Bowe was no friend of the WBC. In 1992, he famously dumped his WBC world title belt in the trash rather than comply with the organization’s mandate that he fight top contender Lennox Lewis. But Bowe, whose lone setback in 45 pro fights came in chapter two of a storied trilogy with Holyfield, was no less formidable at his peak than the other three.

Having said that, it was better that he wasn’t included. His presence would have put a damper on the proceedings.

At age 52, Riddick Bowe is younger than Tyson, Holyfield, or Lewis. But in terms of how far he has slipped since his fighting days, he’s a lot older. Making his story more discouraging, he believes that he can still compete at a high level and actually has a manager out there banging the drums on his behalf.

Bowe’s last meaningful fight was way back in 1996 when he fought the second of back-to-back fights with Andrew Golota. After those two unruly scrums, he was inactive for almost eight full years. During this period, he joined the U.S. Marines but was discharged after only 11 days and served 17 months in prison for interstate domestic violence and kidnapping after a bizarre attempt to repair his fractured relationship with his wife Judy and their five children.

Bowe returned to boxing after his long absence and had three more fights, the last of which transpired in December of 2008 when he won an 8-round decision over a third-rater in Germany. More recently, he tried his hand at Muay Thai. On June 14, 2013, carrying 300 pounds on his flabby frame, he was stopped in the second round on a show in Thailand in which he failed to land a single blow, whether a punch or a kick. ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who watched the fight on YouTube, wrote that anyone who watched it “saw an old man with no remaining discernible skills.”

Bowe never transcended the sport like Tyson or Holyfield in large part because of his limited vocabulary. Of course, he never had a chance to develop that vocabulary because his loquacious manager Rock Newman insisted on doing all the talking. And now it appears that history has repeated. By all accounts, Bowe’s new manager is cut from the same mold. Meet Eli Karabell.

On his web site, Eli Karabell, a fellow in his early 20’s, informs us that he is a “Businessman, Investor, Public Servant, Innovator, Community Leader, Entrepreneur, Politician, Social Activist and President and CEO of the American Boxing Association, a post to which he was appointed (presumably by himself). In his hometown of St. Louis, he is quite the gadfly. According to an article in the Jan. 20, 2018 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Karabell antagonized former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens to such an extent that Greitens’ press secretary had to block his calls.

Since Nov. 23, a certain web site that we won’t name has run five ‘EXCLUSIVE’ stories quoting Karabell about Riddick Bowe’s comeback. In an early story, Karabell said, “I believe Mr. Bowe is the best fighter in the heavyweight division right now, bare none.” As for Bowe beginning his comeback with exhibitions, Karabell said that what he had in mind for him was proceeding directly into a series of 12-round fights.

More recently, Karabell expressed his frustration about failing to induce a top promoter into helping him facilitate Bowe’s comeback. Regarding Eddie Hearn, he said, “He has not read the contract (we sent him), will not respond to our offer and we believe he is trying to obstruct the process.”

Why wouldn’t he? In the immediate aftermath of his second fight with Andrew Golota, Bowe was slurring his words. During the trial that sent him to prison, Bowe’s attorneys argued that his conduct resulted from brain damage. A forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Neil Blumberg, testified that Bowe had suffered irreversible damage to the frontal lobe in his brain. More recently, a New York Times story by Alex Vadukul, published in 2015 – the year that Riddick Bowe was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame – noted that his voice “had warped into a slur.”

The nicest thing we can say about Eli Karabell is that he is pixilated. We have nothing nice to say about anyone in the boxing media who would give him a soapbox.

MGM Grand Garden photo compliments of Joe Santoliquito

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A Peek Inside Justin Fortune’s Old-School LA Boxing Gym

Rick Assad

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Stepping foot inside the Justin Fortune Boxing Gym is like taking a giant step back in time. Located in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles and situated across the street from Fairfax High, the gym could easily be confused for old-style gyms like Stillman’s or Gleason’s in New York City, the Fifth Street Gym in Miami or the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles. Because it’s on the second floor, one must enter from the street level and then walk up a dozen or so steps, fit your way through a narrow hallway before meeting Tamara Frapasella, Justin’s wife.

When I arrived at 9:30 a.m., the place was somewhat busy, but not overly so. There is one ring, but a bevy of heavy bags, a speed bag, a treadmill, several jump ropes, a shower and a steam room. A handful of professional personal trainers were working with eager students as sweat poured off their faces, arms and legs.

Over the course of the next five hours, the gym, which is adorned with old-time fight posters and signed pictures of ring legends like Muhammad Ali, Manny Pacquiao, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, would be fairly bursting with energy.

A few hours in, one professional heavyweight was working with Fortune in the ring as he prepared for an upcoming bout at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s not uncommon to see celebrities at the Fortune Boxing Gym. On this day, a longtime actor, Frank Grillo, was there going through his paces with steely determination.

Fortune, originally from Perth, Australia, has been involved in a multitude of professions, including nearly two decades as a heavyweight boxer. “I’m a chef by trade so I never thought that I’d end up here,” said Fortune, who has also owned a restaurant. “I was always interested in boxing. I was heavily involved in sport. They were all one-on-one sports. I wasn’t much for team sports. Boxing I always enjoyed because it’s the ultimate one-on-one combat. That’s why I liked it so much.” Fortune said he has always liked keeping active. “Then I was heavily into power lifting and from power lifting I switched to boxing. I’m an idiot,” he said.

Fortune, who is 54 years old, knew the fight game isn’t an easy way to make money and was smart enough to exit at the right time. “I set myself time and monetary goals,” he noted. “And once I met them, whichever came first, I was out. I stuck to it. That’s why I’m not punchy or broke. This sport sucks you in. It’s really tough to get out of. You always want that one last fight.”

Fortune began his professional boxing career in 1990 and ended it in 2009. Along the way, he carved out a 15-9-2 record with nine knockouts. Fortune’s biggest fight came against future three-time world heavyweight titleholder and a two-time lineal champion Lennox Lewis in July 1995 in Dublin, Ireland, that concluded with a fourth-round stoppage. “Lennox is a very underrated fighter,” said Fortune, who had 20 wins in 24 amateur fights in Australia that included participating in the Commonwealth Games. “At that stage, in my mind, it didn’t matter. I only had 14 fights, but I would have gotten into the ring with anybody. I didn’t care.” Fortune said that he wanted the fight to continue. “I got screwed. I wouldn’t have won the fight, but in England, the judge is the referee,” he said. “I had only 14 fights, and I got hit with an uppercut, and that was it. The referee stopped it. It would have gone a lot longer.”

Fortune opened his initial gym not too far away on Sunset Boulevard in 2008 and was in business until December 2019 when it was demolished. “This is what I originally wanted,” Fortune said of the current site, reminiscent of the gyms in the 1940s and 1950s. “This style of gym. The wooden floors. The posters. The pictures. The old-time look.” Fortune’s clients range from Academy Award-winning actors to musicians and every day folks. “My clients are a good bunch of people,” he said. “They respect the place and they like coming here. It’s their gym.” Fortune also noted that 65 percent of the people who populate the gym are women.

Frapasella, a former actress and film producer, does all the behind-the-scene work at the gym, but also finds time to be a personal trainer for primarily women and some men. “I think it took us a lot of years to build that,” she said of the welcoming vibe that is clearly present. “We have every nationality you can think of. Everyone is fighting for whatever their reason, but we all get along. We built a family in here and at the end of the day, we’re a family.” Frapasella said the atmosphere and appearance are intentional. “This place is spotless,” she pointed out. “I do have a staff that helps me. I don’t do it all by myself. You want something that’s clean and is welcoming.”

Philadelphia-based heavyweight Joey Dawejko was there preparing for a fight with undefeated Frank Sanchez on March 7 at Barclays Center that will be televised on FOX. “My opponent is a prospect and 14-0,” said Dawejko, who is 20-7-4 with 11 knockouts and nicknamed “The Tank.” Dawejko is hoping to pull off a major upset against Sanchez, who has 11 knockouts. “This is a big opportunity for me because it jumpstarts this year, not only for more to come,” he said. “I’ve gotta get this win and we go from there. Bigger and better things.”

Jose Navarro is a retired World Boxing Council Continental Americas super flyweight champion and Olympian who capped his pro career 27-6 with 12 knockouts. Navarro is currently a personal trainer who works with roughly 50 clients. “It’s the same sport, but you’re on the outside,” he said. “It’s been different. Being in there you get to make your own choices. You see things from a different angle. I actually enjoy this a lot more because you’re teaching what you learned your entire career. So now you’re looking at it from a much different perspective.” Navarro said he likes working at the Fortune Gym. “It’s something you never stop learning,” he said. “You learn something every day. That’s why it’s called the sweet science.”

Joe La Russo is a onetime professional photographer whose specialty was shooting jazz legends such as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. La Russo has been taking boxing lessons for nearly two decades. “I just started coming here the first of the year. I was at another gym for 13 years,” said La Russo, who comes to the Fortune Gym three times a week. “I started when I was 66 years old. In April, I’ll be 80. I just got a nice vibe. I knew people. I knew trainers. I’m dropping down in weight, so I’m on a new program. I feel great.” La Russo said he has always been fascinated with the manly art. “Boxing is all around,” he said. “When I was 16 growing up in Brooklyn, I wanted to go into the Golden Gloves, but my mother wouldn’t let me go,” he said. “So, 50 years later I’m at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood with Freddie Roach. But I came here for a change of pace. Different energy. Different vibe. It’s what keeps me young.”

Originally from South Africa, Vuyo Noyce, spent years in the fashion industry and is married and a mother of two. Noyce has been coming to the Fortune Gym for about four years and pays a visit two or three days a week for about two hours. “I like the environment here. It’s super laid back,” Noyce offered. “It’s not pretentious. I think the trainers are good and Justin’s fantastic. It’s like going to a friend’s house.”

Kylie Fulmer is an Australian and the World Boxing Federation Women’s Intercontinental super bantamweight champion who lives in Los Angeles and also calls the Fortune Gym home. “I spent five years out in Las Vegas, so I was training at TMT, the Floyd Mayweather Gym and Floyd Sr. was my coach for 14 months. Then I went over to [trainer] Dewey Cooper and I’ve been with him for three years,” said Fulmer, who has pieced together a perfect 7-0 record with six knockouts. “The goal this year is to stay active and fight as much as we can. I decided to come out here for a few weeks and had a chat with Justin and I had to make the decision to move over here.”

Fulmer said the decision to stay was fairly easy. “Justin being Australian, you know I’ve got a home away from home and a family,” she said. When asked why she selected the Fortune Gym, Fulmer said that it would help her reach her goals and that she feels comfortable here. “I just really need to focus on the fundamentals of boxing and make those corrections I feel are going to take me to the next level to get these world class fights,” she said.

Frankie Lopez is a 24-year-old cruiserweight, but will drop down in weight to super middleweight. Lopez can be found at the Fortune Gym because he’s also a personal trainer. That day he left for several hours because he had a few clients at UCLA. “I like to be around what I do because I like to incorporate everything with the patients, with my clients, but also patients in the ring to allow myself to better myself and my craft,” explained Lopez, who began as a kickboxer and owns a 12-1-1 mark with nine knockouts. “I used to be trained by Virgil Hill. He’s a five-time world champion and a Hall of Famer, a silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics and his wife [Carla] as well. She’s a four-time Olympian and they trained me for the longest time. But then I went on Google and this gym popped up out of nowhere. So, I came back the next day and I fell in love with it. They welcome you with open arms.”

What takes place in a boxing gym is serious business because if one doesn’t train properly there are consequences. What Fortune and Frapasella have constructed and designed at their gym is in some way atypical. “I make sure everybody’s good,” said Frapasella. “I’m like the gym mom. I want to make sure you have someone to talk to. You want to have a good experience.”

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